The RAAF Base Woomera airfield, South Australia, goes back to the 1940s, with the first ‘igloo’-style hangar erected in 1948, followed by an additional two hangars. The Hangars have been instrumental in Defence operations and used consistently throughout their lifetime. Aside from their functional value, they are considered to be icons of European heritage in Australia.
Despite maintenance and extension to the facilities, the hangars’ operation was becoming inconsistent, and having to operate under rigorous safety measures because of the risk of the roof sheeting detaching in high winds, since the majority of the iron panels were still affixed to the original bolts and nails. The purpose of the Woomera Hangar Maintenance Project was to re-attach all of the roof sheeting, whilst allowing Base operations to continue to operate as required.
Aurecon was appointed under Defence’s Project Delivery Services contract to project manage the rehabilitation efforts while ensuring that they remained sympathetic to the heritage significance of the structures.
The project fell under the Commonwealth Indigenous Procurement Policy, requiring certain contracts to be set aside for procurement to an Indigenous Business Enterprise that is majority-owned by Australia’s first peoples. Through this procurement method, Birubi Australia was appointed Contractor. The project excelled through its support of indigenous business and its capability to empower an Aboriginal labour force. Working with Birubi Australia also had the benefit of strengthening Defence’s relationships with the Traditional Owners of the land, the Kokatha. Furthermore, Aurecon worked with the Contractors to identify and engage resources from the local area wherever possible and supplement resources from the closest regional centres.
Aurecon applied strict project management methodology throughout the project lifecycle to address the challenges that came with the project’s progression. For example, in order to strengthen the facility’s structure while maintaining its history-rich aesthetics, a Heritage Impact Assessment was conducted in the design phase of the project. This guaranteed the delivery of an appropriate design solution from an historical as well as a safety point of view.
Aurecon’s project management expertise also proved to be instrumental when the need to adapt and adjust arose from uncontrollable external issues. In September 2016, Woomera experienced a significant wind event, leading to the airfield being shut down and personnel evacuated to reduce safety risk. This unfortunately damaged not only the original iron sheets, but also the partially completed replacement vent structures on the two hangars. Following this, Aurecon collaborated closely with the designer, contractor and stakeholders to assess the extent of the damage and develop a way to complete the works in time for the hangars to be finalised for operational purposes.
The project’s successful completion serves as a testament to the value of collaboration and meticulous and effective project management, and has resulted in ongoing employment for twelve local Aboriginal workers.